They might not be known in the rest of the world, but North Korean figure skating pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik will have the support of their tiny nation behind them as they compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.
Signs of Solidarity? North Korea Will Participate in Winter Olympics for the First Time in Eight Years
After almost two years of deteriorating relations with South Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that North Korea will send a “high-level” contingent to Pyeongchang.
The announcement made waves; many speculate that it signals a desire for solidarity – or at least an effort to ease tension – on the Korean peninsula. The 2018 Winter Olympics will also be the first time in eight years that North Korea will send athletes to the Winter Games.
North Korean officials accepted an invitation to engage in high-level talks with South Korean leaders in the DMZ. Notably, journalists from both nations were permitted to attend the sessions.
IOC Makes Exceptions to Accommodate Athletes from North Korea
Despite repeated urging from South Korea and the International Olympic Committee, North Korea actually missed the Oct. 31 deadline to accept invitations for athletes to participate in the Olympics.
However, the IOC extended the deadline in support of their mission to promote unity and desire to have all qualified athletes compete. The IOC issued a statement on Monday which read, “The IOC’s mission is always to ensure the participation of all qualified athletes, beyond all political tensions and divisions.”
North Korean Figure Skating Pair Could Medal in Pyeongchang
Ryom and Kim are, so far, the only athletes from North Korea who have qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Last September, the pair took third place at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Germany, where the top five finishers earn Olympic qualification.
Prior to qualifying, the duo spent the summer training under Canadian skating coach Bruno Marcotte in Montreal.
“I had to make all the arrangements for them, because I mean, they don’t have a credit card. So they cannot just book a hotel. They do not have [a] driver’s licence, so I could not just find a place anywhere in Montreal,” Marcotte explained.
Julie Marcotte, the coach’s sister and renowned choreographer, devised the pair’s free skate routine. It’s set to a popular Canadian song by Quebec singer Ginette Reno. Reportedly, Ryom and Kim will perform their short program to the tune of The Beatles. Fans around the world will be watching the ice rink in Pyeongchang.